Get Ready for St. Patrick’s DayCelebrate with Irish Whiskey
The jaded history of Irish whiskey worldwide is shrouded in a tumultuous story of tax evasion – and in the modern age – late night shots at the bar. However, Irish whiskey is more than a shot; it is a dynamic spirit of the ages that can be worked into many drinks, both classic and modern.
“Fuisce”, or “uisce beatha” in its native Irish, has long since been in the shadow of its more dominant neighbour, Scotch. Irish whiskey is lighter and more fragrant, with higher-end products offering a smoother finish due to their triple distillation.
The rules that surround the spirit are somewhat less convoluted than those pertaining to Scotch. The simplicity in the rules lend to experimentation and innovation outside the realms of the classic styles. Irish whiskey must obviously be distilled and aged in Ireland, distilled to no more than 94.8% abv, and aged for 3 years in oak barrels no larger than 700 litres. All of this leads to a far more varied spirit – from the light, floral Irish whiskey crafted in a column still to the peated, heavy spirit crafted in a pot still – and everything in between.
There are several types of whiskey common to Ireland, including single pot still, single malt, single grain, and blended. Single Pot is a mash of malted barley and unmalted barley distilled in a pot still, sometimes known as pure pot still, which is very traditional to Ireland. Single malt, single grain and blended are relatively self explanatory. Bushmills claims to be the oldest surviving distillery in the world. They started distilling in 1608 and the company became registered in 1784, due to the English rule and need for taxes to be imposed on the burgeoning whiskey shipments coming from Ireland.
Irish whiskey was the best-selling whiskey in the US until the enforcement of the National Prohibition Act (a.k.a. the Volstead Act) in 1919, and the Irish War of Independence and subsequent civil war. Exports were halted, and sadly many distilleries were shut down by the early 1960s. By 1966, the remaining distillers amalgamated under the Irish Distillers banner to pool their resources and crawl back up and rejuvenate whiskey exports. By the mid-1970s only two distillers remained, producing a mere 400-500,000 cases a year – well short of the boom of 1900 when 12 million cases sold worldwide. Finally, in 1988, Pernod Ricard stepped in and bought Irish Distillers and started rebuilding brands such as Jameson. They are helping to grow the export and consumption of Irish whiskey to the projected sale of 12 million cases in 2018.
Much of this resurgence has aligned with the people behind the re-creation of cocktail culture the world over. Native Irishmen Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon are co-founders of the Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog in New York’s financial district, which was named the World’s Best Bar for 2015 and awarded the World’s Best Cocktail Menu at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards. Along with their new project in Chicago called Green River, they showcase Irish culture and whiskey that has woven into American history, from the settling of cities to the tumultuous years of American revolt against immigrants – especially the Irish. Dead Rabbit is the epicentre of Irish whiskey culture for the world. It’s a true Irish pub combined with turn-of-the-century cocktail sensibility. The menus, the atmosphere, and the design are reminiscent of a turn-of-the-century New York tavern.
McGarry explained why Irish whiskey is so important in his life: “We love mixing with Irish whiskey because we want to challenge the misconception surrounding the category. Irish whiskey for many years has been pigeonholed as a shooting spirit, due to the popularity of serves such as the Pickle Back. Bartenders therefore approach the class with skepticism, due to its success as a shooter. However, the style that made Irish whiskey famous back in the 19th century, Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, is currently going through a renaissance period and we now have a plethora of options to choose from with the deliciously light and accessible Blended Irish Whiskeys, the fragrant Single Malts and the spicy Single Pot Stills. We are all about showcasing our native spirits in a world class cocktail environment.”
Irish whiskey has a following that cuts deeper than many Scotches, which is a testament to its ability to overcome wars, poverty, taxes, and prohibition to rise above its adversaries and become one of the driving forces in the whiskey world. Much like the people of Ireland, you can beat them down, but they will always rise.
1 ½ oz. Irish whiskey
2/3 oz. sweet vermouth
1/4 oz. green Chartreuse
Glass – small coupe
Method – stir with ice and strain
Garnish – lemon twist